I’m currently in the process of giving my books a facelift. I’m not reworking the actual contents (apart from clearing up a few minor typos and formatting problems), just trying to make them look more attractive and professional. The process so far has given me a thumping headache, and a renewed respect for publishers. Getting a book to look all lovely and slick – in both its print and eBook manifestations – is, let it be said, no easy matter. A thousand perils lie in wait for the unwary.
Still, I’m encouraged by the fact that achieving a nice professional look, though difficult, is eminently possible. Here I am, sitting at the kitchen table and thumping away at an ancient laptop that’s probably not even good for spare parts any more, but with attention to detail, hard work and a smidgeon of luck I might just be able to turn out books that are at least acceptable. Still, it’s tricky. The nuts and bolts that authors once left to publishers still have to be taken care of, and one of the nuttiest nuts is the not-so-small matter of front and back matter. Here’s what I’ve learned so far. I’m still a novice, but it may come in handy to someone out there …
If you’re a keen reader, you’ve probably been flicking through front and back matter for about as long as you can remember. Unless you’ve an unhealthy eye for niggling little details or a burning desire to work in the publishing industry, you probably haven’t paid much attention to it. If you’re self-publishing, however, you might just have to become a front-and-back matter nerd. Those needing expert help – and that’ll be a lot of us, I imagine – can consult either the New Oxford Style Manual (for those who favour British English) or the Chicago Manual of Style (for those on the other side of the Atlantic). Both of these manuals clarify industry standards, and might therefore appeal to anyone who wants to emulate the big publishers. Failing that, you could of course just study the books on your bookshelf.
In general, print books will contain all or at least most of the following in their front matter:
- Half Title Page: only the book title appears on this page; the rest is blank space.
- The Title Page: full title of work (including subtitle), author’s name. May also include the publisher’s name and address.
- Copyright Page: copyright notice, edition information, legal notices, disclaimers, and so on.
The front matter might also include dedications, epigraphs, a Table of Contents, a foreword, a preface, acknowledgements and so on. Back matter might include a postscript, appendix, notes, errata, and a list of contributors where relevant. Pick up any print book and you’ll see how the publishers have arranged all this information, which is good as you’ll always have a pretty solid basic model to work with.
So far, so (reasonably) straightforward. Unfortunately, it won’t remain so for much longer, as we now have to consider …
This is where it gets altogether more tricky. An eBook requires quite a different layout to a physical book, and what works well in print does not always lend itself to the eReader.
First of all, front matter. Customers flicking through a physical book in a bookshop can just skip through all the front matter and dive straight into the story. For those browsing the electronic shelves over at Amazon or the like, however, this is an altogether more laboured affair. EBook retailers usually allow readers to try out a free sample of the book – anything between 10 and 30% – before they buy. The more of the story they read, the more they’re likely to (hopefully) want to read. For this reason, most people advise keeping front matter short and simple.
This is especially true of shorter works. I once read the free sample of a novella – sort of. The problem was that, by the time I’d clicked through the title pages, Table of Contents, dedication, foreword, disclaimers, and so on, the actual amount of the story itself I read amounted to no more than a few sentences. The novella itself might have been brilliant, but sadly I’ll never know.
Having said that, there are certain things that you’ll want to include in your front matter: the title of the book, the author’s name, the ISBN (if any), copyright information, and disclaimers. Excerpts from some rave reviews might also look good here, though other authors prefer to keep these for the back matter. EBook distributors often have quite clear ideas about what should be included in the front matter of a book, and are able to offer advice. The Smashwords Style Guide can be downloaded free, and is useful whether you distribute with Smashwords or not. Amazon, meanwhile, offers some handy hints to authors, such as these.
Something of a question mark hangs over the question of where to place your Table of Contents, or ToC. A ToC is an essential component of an eBook, of course, enabling readers to locate what they want quickly and easily. EBooks without a ToC – and I’ve read a few, including some from big publishing houses that really should know better – make me want to scream (What do you mean, I have to scroll through the entire book to find the bit I’m looking for?!) Many authors include the ToC at the front of their books, but you can also include it with the back matter; as long as it’s there and it’s navigable, I doubt it really matters that much.
The back matter of your book is a good place to include information about your other books. This could take the form of cover images, blurbs, favourable reviews, or excerpts (maybe the first chapter, for example). It’s a good idea to keep this relatively short, however; if it amounts to more than about 15% of the total, some readers may feel cheated when they get 80% of the way through a book only to find that the story suddenly ends.
Other things that might be included in your back matter might be a request to readers to post reviews, your author biography, and links to your website, and Twitter and Facebook profiles. You might also include information on how to sign up to your mailing list, if you have one. If you’re really ambitious, and not ashamed to show it, you might even consider author interviews or book club questions. Also best kept for the back matter is that information which might be important to the author but is rarely of much interest to the reader, such as dedications, acknowledgements, notes, and so on.
Of course, nobody can cater to everyone’s tastes, and self-publishing gives us a certain level of freedom, so authors can experiment and see what works for them. What is most important, perhaps, is simply that readers are rewarded with a pleasant reading experience. My books might have been put together on my PC, with the aid of absolutely no specialist skills or equipment, but I hope that by the time I’ve finished they’ll be able to rub shoulders with those published by the big boys and not look like the poor relations.
This post is reblogged from the Authors Electric blog.